Donald Trump pleaded with China's leader Xi Jinping for help to win re-election in 2020, the US president's former national security advisor John Bolton writes in an explosive new behind-the-scenes book, according to excerpts published Wednesday.
Bolton alleges in a blistering critique that Trump's focus on winning a second term was the driving principle of his foreign policy – and that top aides routinely disparaged the Republican leader for his ignorance of basic geopolitical facts.
In excerpts published by The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, Bolton also claims Trump repeatedly showed a readiness to overlook Chinese human rights abuses – most strikingly telling Xi the mass internment of Uighur Muslims was "exactly the right thing to do."
At a White House Christmas dinner in 2018, Bolton said Trump asked why the US was sanctioning China over its treatment of Uighurs. China suspects Uighurs, who are predominantly Muslim and culturally and ethnically distinct from the majority Han Chinese population, of harbouring separatist tendencies. In recent years, China has dramatically escalated its campaign against them by detaining more than one million people in internment camps and prisons, which it calls vocational training centres.
“At the opening dinner of the Osaka G-20 meeting, with only interpreters present, Xi explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang,” Bolton wrote. “According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do. "
In a key meeting with Xi last June, Trump "stunningly, turned the conversation to the coming US presidential election, alluding to China’s economic capability to affect the ongoing campaigns, pleading with Xi to ensure he’d win,” Bolton said. “He stressed the importance of farmers, and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome.”
"I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn't driven by re-election calculations," Bolton writes of the real estate magnate turned president, who was impeached in December for seeking dirt from Ukraine on his 2020 Democratic election rival Joe Biden.
"I would print Trump's exact words but the government's prepublication review process has decided otherwise," Bolton says, referring to the requirement months ago that he have his manuscript vetted by US agencies.
In a sign of Trump's anger over the memoir, the Justice Department filed an emergency order late Wednesday seeking a halt to publication, the second time in as many days it has tried to block the book.
Arguing that Bolton failed to allow completion of the vetting, the department urged the court to take action to "prevent the harm to national security that will result if his manuscript is published to the world."
Bolton "broke the law" by divulging "highly classified information," Trump said in a late Wednesday interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity.
The US president turned to personal insults, calling Bolton a “washed-up guy. I gave him a chance."
He also took issue with copies of the book being released. “He broke the law. Very simple. I mean, as much as it’s going to be broken.” Trump said. “It’s highly classified information and he did not have approval.”
The book also includes embarrassing claims that Trump thought Finland was part of Russia, didn't know that the United Kingdom was a nuclear power and called reporters “scumbags” who should be “executed.”
He also derided his former advisor, a veteran Washington insider, as "washed up," and mocked Bolton's past support for the US war in Iraq.
In the released excerpts Bolton said that by intervening in cases involving major firms in China and Turkey, Trump appeared to "give personal favours to dictators he liked."
He describes "obstruction of justice as a way of life" in the White House, and says he reported his concerns to Attorney General William Barr.
The bombshell book, The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, arrives in the thick of a presidential campaign against Democrat Biden. The book is set to be released Tuesday by Simon & Schuster. It has been the subject of a lengthy battle between Bolton and the White House.
The former vice-president said that Bolton's revelations show Trump "sold out the American people to protect his political future."
"If these accounts are true, it's not only morally repugnant, it's a violation of Donald Trump's sacred duty to the American people to protect America's interests and defend our values."
The conservative Bolton, himself a controversial figure in US politics, spent 17 turbulent months in the White House before resigning last September.
He declined to testify during the December impeachment process in the House of Representatives, then said in January he would testify in the Senate trial if he were issued a subpoena.
Senate Republicans blocked such an effort by Democrats.
Bolton did not explicitly say whether Trump's newly revealed actions amounted to impeachable conduct but argued that the House should have investigated them.
He also said Democrats committed "impeachment malpractice" by limiting their inquiry to "the Ukraine aspects of Trump's confusion of his personal interests."
Had they looked more widely, Democrats might have persuaded Republicans and other Americans that "high crimes and misdemeanours" had been perpetrated, he wrote.
World's 'most dangerous' man?
Bolton depicts a chaotic White House in which even seemingly loyal top aides mocked the president – while Trump himself allegedly ignores basic facts such as Finland being distinct from Russia.
During Trump's 2018 summit with North Korea's leader, according to excerpts, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slipped Bolton a note maligning the president, saying "He is so full of shit."
Several behind-the-scenes books have emerged in recent years alleging damning Trump details, but Bolton is the highest-ranking official to write one.
Another potentially damaging take looms, this time from within Trump's family.
The president's niece, Mary Trump, releases her memoir, featuring the scathing title Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, on July 28.
Trump has sought to halt the books, but constitutional experts told AFP it would be unlikely for courts to block their publication.